My dad died on Father’s Day.
I can’t imagine how many times I’ve said that throughout my life. It feels like a punch line to a worn-out, twisted joke. It’s not though. I guess it could be the punchline, but it’s not a joke. That is really the day he died.
I can’t remember the exact day we found out he way dying, but I remember the day exactly. It was a school day in early January. But I wasn’t going. I called in sick, because my dad was, and I was taking him to the hospital to find out how sick.
I helped him out of the car and waited until he got his bearings. I casually linked my arm through his so he didn’t have to ask for more help. His pace was painfully slow. But because he was in pain, or because he didn’t want to find out why?
I just wanted him to hurry. I wanted to get this over with. There was a party I wanted to go to later, and I needed to study more for my SAT exam the next morning. I wanted to see my boyfriend before he left town, and I needed to go by my friend’s house to pick up the jeans she said I could borrow.
I just wanted him to hurry, so they could start the surgery, so we could find out what was wrong with him, so they could fucking fix it.
Three hours later I woke up on the hospital floor, my head propped up on my study guide. They said it would only take two hours. It had been over three. I opened my book back up to the algebra equations, shut it, opened it again, and flipped over to the vocabulary section. I had learned a good trick for memorizing vocab words. You take the word and use it in 3 different sentences, but sentences that will stand out in your mind, like something funny to make them memorable.
Aberration: a state or condition markedly different from the norm
- My dad’s health is an aberration.
- A 17-year old girl without a father is an aberration.
- Sitting in a freezing cold hospital lobby by yourself waiting to hear if your dad is going to die is an aberration.
I laughed. I’m pretty confident that I’m the only person using death as a study tactic, which is in and of itself an aberration.
He snuck up behind me, asking if I was William Breazeale’s daughter. I jumped up, throwing my book up in the air, which sent my notes flying in all directions. We both paused for a minute, watching their graceful descent. I looked up at him, embarrassed, and tried to smile. He didn’t smile back. He just told me, matter-of-factly, that the surgery went great and my dad was dying from pancreatic cancer.
I slammed the front door behind me. His head shot up. He hated it when I slammed the door. “Sorry, dad!”. Shit, did I wake you up? How are you feeling?”
Why did I keep asking him that? What the hell is he going to say. “I feel amazing. That last can of Ensure you shot into my veins tasted awesome and is digesting perfectly. I can’t get up by myself anymore and have been waiting for you to get here so I can go to the bathroom. Other than that, I feel great.”
He attempted to smile. “I’m fine. How was school?”
“Fine. I have to go back, it’s only noon. I just came home to check on you”.
“It’s only noon?”
“Yeah. You hungry?”
“Well, were you able to drink some of the juice I bought you?”
“No. I haven’t felt like it.”
“Dad! You have to eat, whether you are hungry or not! You can’t keep going to chemo if you aren’t doing anything to build yourself back up. Have you looked at yourself? You are literally wasting away!”
I stormed into the kitchen and brought him back a glass of orange juice. He tilted his head forward to take a sip, giving me a look that made me sit down next to him and gulp the rest of it down myself.
“Will you make sure I’m here when you go?”
“I’ll do my best, but I can’t make any promises.”
“No dad, you have to. You have to promise you won’t leave me until I can get back here”.
“Brooke, I can’t promise that you will be here when I die. But I promise I will never leave you.”
I acquired this slight obsession with our calendar. Every morning I scrolled across the row of days, then down the column of weeks, looking for, I’m not sure what, an aberration I suppose. Which day was it going to be? I flipped to the next month and my eyes landed on the only words on the page.
I actually laughed out loud. You’ve got to be kidding me. He’s going to die on fucking Father’s Day?
Of course I didn’t tell anybody this. How morbid and sad. What was even more so was that I actually felt relieved. I had a date. This was going to end at some point, and it was going to be soon. I started planning the things I would do after that day. I could leave the house again without having to find someone to watch him. I could go to parties with my friends without worrying about him or having to leave early to go take care of him. I wouldn’t have to give him morphine shots anymore, or clean up after him when he didn’t make it to the bathroom, or sleep outside his bedroom door hearing him moan in pain, crying myself to sleep because there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop it.
I wouldn’t have to do any of those things anymore. Because on June 21st, my dad wouldn’t be dying. On June 21st, my dad would be dead.
I spent the morning with my best friend and his family. I reluctantly agreed to go to church with them, cringing at every forced metaphor reiterating the importance of celebrating ‘the father’.
I asked if I could stop to buy him a card before we headed to the movie and spent longer than I should have picking it out. He obviously wasn’t going to read it, but I wanted to read it to him, and it needed to be perfect.
We made it to the front of the line just before the previews started. I grabbed my ticket, and then turned to his dad and told him to take me home.
I closed the front door behind me, making sure not to slam it. I nervously peeked my head into his room to see if he was still breathing, and then plopped down next to him to sign his card. The pen was out of ink. Of course it was out of ink. I went into the kitchen and started digging through the drawers, and then stopped for some reason. I heard something, like a moan or a whisper. But I kept digging. He’s ‘fine’, he can’t be in pain, he has a constant stream of morphine going and he hasn’t made a sound for days. I grabbed a pen, then dropped it and sprinted to his room.
He was dead.
“No, no, no, no. Dad, NO! You promised! Did you seriously just wait until I left the fucking room to leave me? I sat down next to him, studying his face for some sign of anything. There was nothing. He was gone.
I just started yelling at him. “I came home for you. I made everyone miss the movie for you. You were supposed to wait for me to get back, that was the deal. We made a deal!”
The tears I had been stuffing down for months unleashed. I was actually grateful I was alone, but I was furious with him, with myself. He was leaving me for good and he couldn’t just give me this one thing. He couldn’t just let me say good-bye. But maybe he did? Maybe he finally worked up the courage to let go, and I then I left him?
I felt something, a gentle squeeze of my hand. I stopped crying and quickly looked back up as one final tear made its way down his cheek.
That was 25 years ago. Yes, it was terrible, but it was so long ago, I don’t really even think about it anymore. The reality is, I haven’t had a dad longer than I had one.
Now that I see my friends worrying about how badly they are fucking up their kids, I wonder what issues of mine are directly linked to him. My dad was an amazing father, but not always a great one. He, like all of us, had many demons, which he never quite figured out how to conquer. Whether he was drunk or sober, wealthy or broke, in love or lonely, I just never felt like he ever really found happy.
I’m sure this negatively impacted me somehow I’m sure all of it did, But it also what made him and our relationship beautiful. I’m not sure if he was truly happy, but he made sure everyone else was. His life could be in shambles, but he would make sure yours was going to be fine. He could be reckless and stubborn, but he was the person you went to when there was nowhere else to go. He was patient and kind and generous. And although he was guarded with his words, you never questioned how he felt about you. I say ‘you’ because he wasn’t just my dad. He was my friends’ dad and my neighbors’ dad, and he was everyone’s friend.
Now, for me, Father’s Day is just another day. But for the first time in decades, I actually felt a twinge of guilt when I realized what day it was. I haven’t thought about him much lately, not at all, really. I kind of just feel like he isn’t a part of my life anymore. He’s just gone.
This actually made me laugh. Was I really that far gone that I couldn’t see what was so blatantly obvious? My dad has never been so present in my life as he has over the past few months- in the people who have come into my life, the beautiful places I have landed, and the books that have ended up in my hands; in a smile that made me feel, or a word that made me hope, or a sunset that assured me this pain was going to stop.
I truly believe he thought he was going to lose me, so he immersed himself so fully in my day to day that there could be no doubt in my mind. He was going to wait until I came back… to remind me that he never left.